In director Jon Knautz‘s The Cleaning Lady the lonely Alice (Alexis Kendra) befriends Shelly (Rachel Alig), a woman scarred by burns. The two develop a friendship where they are both equally saving the other from very different types of pain.
At first I was worried that this film’s story would be too predictable; the scarred lady will get too close to the pretty blonde, developing an obsessive relationship that leaves one of them dead. I was only partly correct. Instead of falling down an entirely expected rabbit hole, The Cleaning Lady only toys with the idea. There is a lack of surprise in the story which is a little disappointing, but learning about Shelly’s back-story in neat exposition does offer a few moments of intrigue.
Both the leading ladies are complex and interesting, mainly steering away from cliches associated with female characters. Sure, it’s a little under-whelming to see a woman sick with love and another hindered with supposed imperfections – women do care about more than just their romantic relationships and their beauty, you know? – but perhaps this film’s grounding in horror can be transferred to more than just its jump scares. There is a certain horror in the sadness of these women that perhaps urges us to remember that, as women (and men, of course), we can find happiness outside of these stereotypical preconceptions of joy.
The similarities and differences between Alice and Shelly feel a little cliché – they’re both broken, scarred and tormented – but, Kendra and Alig’s performances feel real. The friendship becomes touching, the conversations between the two feel sweet and credible, which is enough to generate the desired empathy from us, the audience. There are times where it feels shallow, but there is certainly a worthy sentiment below the superficiality.
Of course, these moments of friendship only feel like warning signs, because this is a horror film, so the happiness can only last so long.
The Cleaning Lady has one heck of a nauseating opening scene, so it’s a shame when you realise that nothing in the main body of the film can live up to this immediately icky beginning. Except maybe when you realise where it’s going… OK, I’ve said to much. It does feel like much of the film is spent waiting for something to happen and, even though it’s a meagre 90 minutes long, there are times when it feels a lot longer.
The film feels like a horror fairytale, where a twinkling soundtrack works well against the foreboding visuals to enhance a clash between the dark and the light, good and evil. There are no scenes of real terror – although, Shelly’s childhood is filled with a generous helping of its own, twisted horror – but, The Cleaning Lady‘s own obsession with jealousy, envy, abuse, toxic attachments and the idea of being saved, do offer an element of thematic horror.
The Cleaning Lady is a decent, almost all-women-led semi-slasher – which is quite the mouthful, but you get what I mean. It’s creepy and strange, led by a couple of great actresses, so add it to your never-ending watch lists.